I walked in the early morning to Klarenbeck, up and down in a vast wood, and at a point of vantage called the Steenen Tafel looked down on the Rhine valley. Nothing could be less like the Holland of the earlier days of my wanderings—nothing, that is, that was around me, but with the farther bank of the river the flatness instantly begins and continues as far as one can see in the north.
It was a very beautiful morning in May, and as I rested now and then among the resinous pines I was conscious of being traitorous to England in wandering here at all. No one ought to be out of England in April and May. At one point I met a squirrel—just such a nimble short-tempered squirrel as those which scold and hide in the top branches of the fir trees near my own home in Kent—and my sense of guilt increased; but when, on my way back, in a garden near Arnheim I heard a nightingale, the treachery was complete.
And this reminds me that the best poem of the most charming figure in Dutch literature—Tesselschade Visscher—is about the nightingale. The story of this poetess and her friends belongs more properly to Amsterdam, or to Alkmaar, but it may as well be told here while the Arnheim nightingale—the only nightingale that I heard in Holland—is plaining and exulting.
Tesselschade was the daughter of the poet and rhetorician Roemer Visscher. She was born on 25th March, 1594, and earned her curious name from the circumstance that on the same day her father was wrecked off Texel. In honour of his rescue he named his daughter Tesselschade, or Texel wreck, thereby, I think, eternally impairing his right to be considered a true poet. As a matter of fact he was rather an epigrammatist than a poet, his ambition being to be known as the Dutch Martial. Here is a taste of his Martial manner:—
far too much: ’tis true
A sad affliction hath distressed his life;—
Mourns he that death hath ta’en his children two?
O no! he mourns that death hath left his wife.
I have said that Visscher was a rhetorician. The word perhaps needs a little explanation, for it means more than would appear. In those days rhetoric was a living cult in the Netherlands: Dutchmen and Flemings played at rhetoric with some of the enthusiasm that we keep for cricket and sport. Every town of any importance had its Chamber of Rhetoric. “These Chambers,” says Longfellow in his Poets and Poetry of Europe, “were to Holland, in the fifteenth century, what the Guilds of the Meistersingers were to Germany, and were numerous throughout the Netherlands. Brussels could boast of five; Antwerp of four; Louvain of three; and Ghent, Bruges, Malines, Middelburg, Gouda, Haarlem, and Amsterdam of at least one. Each Chamber had its coat of arms and its standard, and the directors bore the title of Princes and Deans. At times they gave public representations of poetic dialogues and stage-plays,